With just 23 healthy players, the Cardinal McCarrick High School football team used oversized garbage cans as scout team offensive linemen when attempting to simulate Mater Dei’s option attack.
The Eagles quickly discovered in Friday night’s game between the schools that Rubbermaid products may be durable, but they are not reliable replacements for an opposing guard or center.
Cardinal McCarrick had more trouble filling the “A” gap against Mater Dei’s actual players than it did facing inanimate objects. As a result, the Eagles trailed by 19 points at halftime.
Senior quarterback Jahmal Pryce, who accounted for his team’s lone first-half score, asserted himself offensively after the intermission, and Cardinal McCarrick’s defense pitched a second-half shutout as the Eagles rallied for a dramatic 34-25 comeback victory.
Pryce scored on runs of 60 and 25 yards, helping Cardinal McCarrick close a 25-6 halftime deficit to five points.
Running back Armand Arnaldy’s 60-yard touchdown scamper gave the Eagles their first lead, 26-25, before Pryce put the game out of reach with a 75-yard touchdown run.
Pryce finished with 221 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries. He also returned a kickoff 90 yards for a score and made two-touchdown-saving tackles from his safety position.
Pryce, who also had two touchdown passes nullified by penalty, is the Home News Tribune’s Football Player of the Week.
“Toward the end of the second quarter, the guys started catching on,” Cardinal McCarrick coach Rich Hilliard said of his defense, which initially had some difficulty playing assignment football.
“I told them (at halftime) we can with this game. They came out and stuck to their assignments. I don’t think (Mater Dei) gained a yard (in the second half). It just all worked out for us.”
With the defense giving the offense a chance to rally, Pryce, who transferred three years ago from Perth Amboy High School, where he was the freshman team’s starting quarterback, wasted little time.
His 60-yard touchdown run came on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. His 25-yard scoring jaunt came on the ensuing possession following a Mater Dei fumble.
“Anytime Jamal is in the game, we are OK and the other team has to worry a little bit,” Hilliard said. “He’s got the heart of a giant and he doesn’t want to stop.”
Perth Amboy coach Mike Giordano said Pryce would have been the Panthers’ starting quarterback this year had he remained at the high school.
Giordano remembered Pryce, groomed in the city’s Pop Warner program, as a quality student and person. Many of Pryce’s friends are from Perth Amboy, where he still plays pick-up basketball games.
“It’s a pleasure playing (at Cardinal McCarrick),” Pryce said. “It’s my last year of high school and I love playing football. I would die to play football. At a Catholic school, the numbers are pretty low, but we still pull through.”
Pryce said he and his teammates were “shocked” when Hilliard — who got the idea from Dunellen coach Dave DeNapoli — brought the garbage cans onto the practice field (with two injured players expected to return, a couple of those Rubbermaid cans may lose their scout team positions).
“Coach Hilliard gave us a great (halftime) speech, talking about how we prepared so hard for this week,” Pryce said. “He knew the numbers were low, and he tried to make everything possible. He told us to keep our heads up, that we were still in the game.”
Pryce said he believed Cardinal McCarrick’s comeback win over Mater Dei could set the Eagles (1-1) up nicely for the remainder of the year.
“It showed us anything is possible,” he said. “We were down, we came back and we believed.
“I would love to see us in the playoffs. If we play that hard and just keep striving for that goal at the end, anything is possible.”